Creating Death’s Head
So what was the genesis of Death’s Head?
Simon Furman: “I was writing Transformers, and we’d just started this space Spaghetti Western-style saga called Wanted: Galvatron – Dead or Alive, which spun out from Transformers The Movie*. Part of the remit was to expand the Transformers universe, another part was to explore my love of Spaghetti Westerns, especially The Dollars Trilogy. Anyway, this all filtered down into the idea of a robotic bounty hunter. Originally, as the title of the comic was Transformers and not ‘Another Bunch Of Badass Mechs’, Death’s Head was meant to be an entirely throwaway character. He’d serve the story, set the cat among the pigeons, and then exit stage left.”
Death’s Head didn’t just look good, he had a unique personality…
“A lot of the stuff we know and love about Death’s Head wasn’t in the original script. But it just so happened that Geoff Senior was drawing that issue. I had the name, and I almost certainly mentioned that I wanted a skull-style cranium, but how much else I put in the script I don’t know. What came back from Geoff was just so much more than I (or anyone else) was expecting. I knew immediately I didn’t just want to use and discard this character, and went as far as to do another dialogue pass on the script to throw in some more character/verbal beats and tics, to really give him a personality. I was aware that bounty hunters were pretty commonplace, so I tried to think of ways to give him something a little different. There was the whole ‘freelance peacekeeping agent’ angle, a kind of complete denial about being anything so common as a bounty hunter, and then the idea that he never, ever does anything unless he’s getting paid. Emotional responses just don’t come into it.”
What are the key characteristics that make Death’s Head such a good character and such fun to write?
“The humour is a big part. I’m from that hardy British stock weaned on strips that mixed quite hard-edged action with dark, dark humour and satire. Without the gallows humour he’s just another badass killing machine. You need to offset the inherent nastiness of what he does with these oddball moments and personality tics and general lack of monologuing or emoting. He’s also very much a product of the ’80s. Everything’s about the bottom line, the payday. Show me the money.
“The What If? we did with Death’s Head kind of sums the character up for me. In it, he pretty much sacrifices half Marvel’s roster of heroes just to weaken the villain and make the ‘kill’ easier. Then, in the bloody aftermath, with his bounty secured, he opines wistfully about heroes and heroism and concludes… ‘I hope it’s not catching, yes?’ That to me is Death’s Head and what makes him so much fun to write.”
Michael Molcher talks to Simon Furman, co-creator of the ruthless robotic “freelance peacekeeping agent”
The character was reborn as Death’s Head II and became Marvel UK’s biggest seller. Was that a bittersweet experience?
“It was bitter more than sweet to be brutally honest. And the problem I had with Death’s Head II was why call it Death’s Head at all? It was a completely different character, and much more of a generic robot. Without the humour and the quirks/ tics it just wasn’t Death’s Head to me. But hey, that’s all water under the bridge now. Geoff and I got to do that rather cathartic What If? wherein the original Death’s Head kills Death’s Head II. Anyway, I’m over it now… really… honestly…”
CH: After 25 years, how does it feel to have a character that’s still so appreciated? SF:
“It’s incredible to think that Death’s Head is still going and finding new fans. And he’s still winning polls for HeroClix and other stuff. I just think that the core of the character is very pure and direct. He’s a refreshing antidote to this kind of kill-crazy attitude you get a lot in comics now.”